Monstera are some of the most popular plants in the houseplant trade today, and with good reason. These easy-to-care for stunners lend a tropical feel to any room and are even excellent natural air purifiers for your home.
If you have house pets, you may be concerned about the safety of keeping these plants as many online resources list monstera as “toxic.”
While this may be true to a degree, it is not the whole truth.
In this article we’ll explore this question and how you can safely keep this beautiful plant even if you have cats and dogs in your home.
Native to the tropical rainforests of South America, monsteras are gorgeous foliage plants that can grow quite large and can provide a focal point for your houseplant collection.
Today, there are at least 45 different recognized types of monstera, including Monstera adansonii, Monstera obliqua, and the ever popular Monstera deliciosa, also known as the Swiss cheese plant or split-leaf philodendron.
Is Monstera Toxic to Cats, Dogs, & Other Pets?
According to the ASPCA, all species of monstera are categorized as “toxic” to cats and dogs. While many plants that are deemed toxic are very dangerous and even fatal for house pets, such as lilies and sago palms, monstera are only “mildly toxic,” meaning they will cause unpleasant symptoms, but they do not contain toxins that can cause major issues, such as organ failure. When ingested, monstera can cause a range of issues in your pet, including painful sensations to the tongue and throat and intestinal upset.
These unpleasant symptoms are due to calcium oxalate crystals, which are present in all monstera and can be found in all parts of these plants, from root to stem to leaf. In fact, the only part of monsteras that don’t include calcium oxalate crystals are the fully-ripened fruit of Monstera deliciosa; however, as these plants rarely fruit as houseplants, that is of little concern for the purposes of this article.
But what are calcium oxalate crystals exactly and what impact do they have on plant toxicity and pet safety?
What Are Calcium Oxalate Crystals?
Calcium oxalate crystals are naturally-occurring biominerals that are present in almost all species of plants, from the smallest algae to full-grown trees. In fact, calcium oxalate crystals are found in many houseplants beyond monsteras, including dieffenbachia, pothos, syngonium and alocasia. These crystals are created in plant cells and are shaped like bunches of tiny, sharp needs (call raphides), which sometimes even have barbed ends. Considering the shape of these raphides, it’s no wonder they cause unpleasant reactions in pets if ingested. Their sharp points can easily become imbedded in the soft tissue of pets’ mouths and digestive tracts where they can cause painful, burning sensations.
However, calcium oxalate crystals don’t just cause intestinal discomfort, they are also the leading cause of the most common type of kidney stones found in humans. Commonly found in many edible foods like spinach, sweet potatoes, chocolate, rhubarb and peanuts, an overabundance of calcium oxalates can cause kidney stone formation; however, a moderate amount of these foods should not cause issues in most people.
But why do plants have calcium oxalates anyway? Well, there are several reasons. First and foremost, because of their sharp shape and potential for causing discomfort, calcium oxalates form part of a plant’s defense system against grazing animals or, in the case of your home, house pets. Reactions to calcium oxalate crystals are almost immediate, occurring in as little as 30 seconds after ingestion. This means that a single bite of a plant leaf that contains these crystals is usually enough to deter an animal from consuming any more of the plant, thereby protecting the plant from further damage.
Different plants contain different amounts of crystals, which determine how severe a reaction can be after ingestion. Spinach, for example, contains fewer crystals than monsteras do; however, monsteras contain fewer crystals than dieffenbachia, which means a reaction to dieffenbachia will be stronger than a reaction to monsteras.
Beyond defense, calcium oxalates also help plants regulate calcium internally, as well as aid in heavy metal detoxification.
What Should I Do if My Pet Ate My Monstera?
Despite our best efforts as pet owners, cats and dogs have a tendency to get into trouble. If you suspect that your pet took a bite out of your monstera, keep a cool head as there is likely no need to panic. First, you’ll want to inspect your pet’s mouth, looking for signs of redness, discomfort or swelling. If you don’t see anything obvious and your pet seems okay, you likely won’t have to intervene. However, if your pet shows signs of discomfort, they will need a bit of help.
Symptoms of calcium oxalate ingestion occur quite quickly, sometimes in as little as 30 seconds after ingestion. You may notice your cat or dog will begin pawing at their mouth or otherwise showing symptoms of mouth pain or discomfort. Other symptoms may include drooling or, less commonly, signs of intestinal distress, such as vomiting or diarrhea.
If you notice these symptoms in your pet, you’ll want to act quickly. Separate your pet from your houseplants and try to get your pet to drink water or another liquid to help flush the sharp crystals from their mouth and throat. A small bit of yogurt or the liquid from a can of wet pet food or tuna can encourage reluctant pets to drink in a pinch. If you can’t get your pet to drink anything, try to gently flush their mouth with a bit of water. Symptoms should subside once you manage to flush their mouth out; however, it is important to continue to monitor your pet for signs of distress.
Less commonly, a more severe reaction may occur, which can cause throat or mouth swelling and difficulty breathing. If you notice these signs in your pet, or your pet seems to be in pain, contact your vet immediately. Your vet can offer you assistance or provide your pet with pain medication if they deem it necessary. If it is after hours, try calling an emergency vet office in your area for assistance.
If you need additional help, consider reaching out to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435, or the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661. Operators can provide you with recommendations and advice; however, be advised that they will charge a service fee of $75 for the consultation.
How to Safely Keep Monsteras With House Pets
As with any houseplant, it is wise to keep plants away from pets by potting them in hanging baskets or placing them on a high shelf out of reach of your cat or dog. If you have the space, a dedicated, enclosed grow cabinet can help keep pesky pets away from your plants as well. Keeping your pets away from plants is not only wise for keeping your pets healthy, but it will also help your plants by protecting them from the damage pets can cause.
If you can’t isolate your monstera, you can try making it undesirable to your pets by spraying it down with a pet repellant spray, such as bitter apple spray. Alternatively, you can add citrus peels or coffee grounds to your plant’s pot or spray your planting area with sprays that are repulsive to pets, such as a cayenne powder spray or vinegar (just note that vinegar can be damaging to plants so don’t directly spray your plants with it).
If you have a cat that likes to dig in your houseplant pots, try covering the soil with pebbles or gravel to make it less appealing. While some people may recommend spraying your plants with a mixture of essential oils that pets don’t like, in general, essential oils are not pet-safe and should not be used in areas where pets are present.
Beyond sprays, try training your pets to avoid your plants with positive reinforcement and, if all else fails, a bit of distraction. Add some pet-safe plants to your grow space, such as catnip or wheatgrass, that your pets can happily devour without any negative consequences.
In the end, you know your pet best. Try different solutions and see what works best for your pet and your home. Sometimes a combination of repellant sprays and a bit of distraction is all you need to keep your pets and your plants safe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions that we get about keeping Monstera with pets:
Can monstera cause reactions in people?
Yes. Monstera ingestion, whether by people or pets, will cause the same range of symptoms, including mouth pain and intestinal distress. The sap of monsteras can also cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis so, if you’re pruning your plant, it is best to wear gloves. For these reasons, if you have small children in your home, you will want to place your monstera in an out of the way location for safety.
My pet chewed on my monstera. Will my plant be okay?
Yes. Monsteras are very hardy plants and can handle pet damage with ease. Simply cut away the damaged foliage and your plant should recover quickly.
For house plant enthusiasts, the question of pet safety is always an important one and should be approached with a cool head and a bit of research. While there are certainly many toxic houseplants on the market that are not pet safe, monsteras are low-toxicity plants which can be kept in a home with pets as long as you follow a few simple guidelines and safety precautions. If you have a pet that is particularly intent on chewing on plants, keeping a monstera at home may not be the best choice; however, for most homes, a combination of pet repellant sprays, distraction and locating your plants well out of your pet’s way is usually enough to keep both your pets and your plants safe.